Juniperus communis

I’ll make a stab at doing the “Botany and Spirits” series this week, as it looks like most days this week will afford me enough time for lengthier posts.

Photographed only a few metres away from the squirrel midden featured on BPotD last month, this common juniper plant is only one individual of the most broadly-distributed conifer species in the world (according to Juniperus communis). Native to most of North America north of Mexico as well as much of Eurasia, it also reaches into Algeria, Morocco, Nepal and Pakistan. I would guess there are exceedingly few vascular plant species one could find both within 100km of the Arctic Ocean and on the south side of the Mediterranean Sea.

The blue fruits of juniper are in fact seed cones, so therefore developmentally similar to cones such as the ones found on Cupressus, for example. However, the scales that form the cone are merged and fleshy in juniper, producing what are called juniper berries (technically speaking, not true berries).

The name for juniper in French is genièvre and in Dutch jenever, and through a bit of abbreviation, this leads to gin–the distilled beverage for today’s entry in the series. The predominant flavouring for gin is juniper, though one local distillery uses at least 13 other botanical flavourings. Several different distillation and flavouring methods are used for the production of gin, with variation occurring in number of distillations, when flavourings are added, and types of stills used.

Wikipedia explores the colourful history of gin, including the Gin Craze of the early 18th century in Great Britain. Purportedly, of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London at the time, over half were gin shops. It also makes mention of some poetry regarding the social ills of excess imbibing: “The principal sin, Of Gin, Is, among others, Ruining mothers” (one of the British names for gin is “mother’s ruin”).

Juniperus communis
Juniperus communis

11 responses to “Juniperus communis”

  1. Paddy Wales

    And a ginny toast to you, Daniel for highlighting one of my favourite things to sniff late in the afternoon on a hike. Juniper berries remind me to hurry along the trail to a G&, soothing the parched throat and aching feet.

  2. Beverley

    Fabulous photo of a favourite plant and flavouring! Also interested to read of the local distillery, another choice is Merry Christmas to Botany Photo of the Day readers and to you, Daniel, thank you for all you do.

  3. Caroline

    My grandmother lived in a tiny apartment and would bring in Juniper boughs instead of a Christmas tree for the holidays. The boughs were arranged in a brown earthenware pot, and decorated with old fashioned straw ornaments, little stars and hearts. We lived on the west coast of Sweden, and the juniper grew among the rocks close to the water, surrounded by blueberry and sloe. In the summer, on your way to the beach, you’d catch the wonderful smell of Juniperus and Vaccinium warming in the sun.
    As you can tell, I am homesick for the holidays. Thank you for all the BPotD entries throughout the year. Happy Holidays to Daniel, his student helpers all the BPotD readers!

  4. Susan Hall

    Amazing thing…just caught a wonderful whiff of juniper, some quirk of memory from the visual in-put of your post. My grandparents in Missouri also brought in a juniper tree at Christmas time, my grandmother would crochet snowflakes to decorate it with. You’ve given me an excellent gift by bringing back those memories with your timely posting.
    Thanking you, Daniel, and your student assistants for your terrific BPotD series all through the year, look forward to them a great deal. Wishing you all the best and Happiest of Holidays,
    Susan Hall

  5. Jan

    I made my first trip to the North East of England this summer and visited a native juniper forest in Upper Teesdale, County Durham. That is the first time I have seen junipers in the wild and was so pleased to see them scattering the sides of a valley with their scrubby growth.
    Around and about were flower filled unimproved grasslands full of orchids. It was great

  6. peggy kelly

    I worked at the Missouri Botanical Gardern for many years and in the Missouri woods, junipers are the pioneer species in every woodland edge. On the glades they are prevalent but tiny and they grow sideways out of limestone bluffs along the rivers and highways. You cannot help but admire the tenacity of a plant growing out of a crack in a rock 150 feet up a bluff over an Ozark stream.

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    during the 1920’s in the united states -the prohibition era
    bath tub gin was made- a lethal combination of
    juniper berries and grain alcohol and lethal it was
    thank you daniel for keeping our spirits up no wonder
    the little folks like to dwell in the forest bon jour

  8. Nancy

    So often when I spot this particular juniper, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is nearby. In the second photo it looks like uva-ursi is spreading out in the lower right corner.
    Thanks for the pictures, it’s like seeing two old friends!

  9. Irma in Sweden

    The juniper is not just great in flavouring gin but can also transform the most tame beef roast into a flavourful wild roast. It can be used in a marinade in which the roast can be put over night together with red wine and other spices. Crush them to bring out the flavour.
    I hope to be able to go out during the Christmas days and pick the berries on the bleak skerries outside Stockholm and bring them home In anticipation of a roast dinner in the new year.
    Thanks Daniel for your good job

  10. dr bob

    Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is said to have the widest latitudinal distribution of any North American tree (north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska to the volcanoes south of Mexico City, easily surpassing that of common juniper). But it is worthless for flavoring gin.

  11. Eric Simpson

    Nice vivid color on the “berries”, something I’m not used to with junipers that used to be a common landscaping plant locally (coastal SoCal), whose berries always had a whitish film on them. I really miss the trees that I grew up clambering around in.

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